33 Slices
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“Dusting Out.” Features and Fillers: Texas Journalists on Texas Folklore, PTFS LVI, 1999

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Dusting Out

Dallas Times Herald

Sunday, November 28, 1982

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During the early years of the Depression the Jim Talbots lived in a two-room shack on Grandad’s Washita River ranch in the Texas

Panhandle. Jim was Grandad’s cousin and he helped out on the place and he was peg-legged. He was a big strong man and he wore this regular strap-on peg leg, and I would have given my toy tractor to have seen him take it off and put it on again. As I remember the story—or imagined it—Jim Talbot got caught in the crossfire in a train robbery at a railroad station and stopped the bullet that eventually cost him his leg. That scene is as vivid in my mind now as it was fifty years ago.

Jim’s family consisted of Jim and Pearl and their three kids—an older girl and a little boy, and Frances, who was seven years old and my age. Girl that she was, she was the only child to play with for miles and miles of Panhandle plains, and she helped to keep away the high lonesomes that always hung over the prairie. Frances was red-headed and completely freckled and ready to explore the far reaches of any barn or plum thicket or rat’s nest. Neither of us could imagine a world without the other, and I loved her dearly.

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“The Elusive Emily D. West, Folksong’s Fabled ‘Yellow Rose of Texas.’” 2001: A Texas Folklore Odyssey, PTFS LVIII, 2001

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

The Elusive Emily D. West,

Folksong’s Fabled “Yellow

Rose of Texas”

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The purpose of this paper is to show how a haunt has crept into the hallowed halls of history and hopefully to exorcise it.

I am not an iconoclast. I love the old Texas traditions, its songs and legends. I was raised on the old tales and tunes, and I have made a decent living and had a happy profession teaching and talking about Texas folklore for the past thirty-five years. So I’m going to dance with the gal that brung me till this party is over.

However, even in the realm of Texas legends, one has to draw a line somewhere (Just as Travis “undoubtedly” did at the Alamo!), and I would like to draw some parameters around the so-called and lately created legend of the Yellow Rose of Texas, both the song by that title and the subject of the song. The folklore has gotten out of hand: medals have been struck, hotels named, novels written. Who knows what lies ahead!

We have the beginnings of the story from William Bollaert, a traveler in Texas in 1842. Bollaert got his information first hand from none other than General Sam Houston:

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“The East Texas Communal Hunt.” Hunters & Healers: Folklore Types & Topics, PTFS XXXV, 1971

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

The East Texas Communal Hunt

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Twenty-five million years ago—or thereabouts—a marked climatic change took place in the earth’s history. The great forests began to diminish in size, and broad grasslands took their place.

In the shrinking forests a struggle for dominance was taking place between two groups of tree-dwelling primates, the ancestral great apes and ancestral man. The apes turned out to be the fitter of the two species in this battle, and they forced their weaker kin first to the fringes of the forests and then out on the broad savannahs.

Those early men who could not adapt to the new environment perished. The smartest and the strongest survived, occupied a new biological niche, and began their evolutionary journey to what we call the modern man.

What nature selected to survive was an upright biped with high forward eyes, arms freed from the work of locomotion, an opposable thumb, and a highly developed brain. Because he did not have the speed of a deer, the armor of a turtle, the spines of a porcupine, or the fecundity of a rabbit, he could not afford to be as stupid as any of them. What he did have and that which kept him alive was a combination of qualities that put together made him a match for the other animals. He had brought from his life in the forests a sense of color and depth perception. He could run, swim, and climb as well as most animals, and he could think and throw things better than them all. And somewhere along the evolutionary way he had picked up a gene that had given him a hunter instinct that was as strong as a cat’s. He was a hunter of meat, strong red meat that gave him enough nourishment at one feeding to allow him to sit around and enjoy the fruits of thought and nourish the arts of his culture.

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“Dobie’s Only Child: The TFS in 1926.” Paper Presented at the Seventy-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, San Marcos, Texas, March 30, 1991

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Dobie’s Only Child: The TFS in 1926

[Paper presented at the Seventy-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, San Marcos, Texas,

March 30, 1991]

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Calculating Calvin Coolidge was the president in 1926. Dan Moody had defeated Ma Ferguson in the Texas governor’s race that year, and both candidates had taken strong steps to curb the political power of the Ku Klux Klan. Patriotism, prosperity, and prohibition were the three planks that Texas politicians stood most firmly on.

And everybody felt prosperous except the farmer, who was raising more and getting less.

By 1926 the Twenties were in full roar, and the culture shock suffered by that decade’s elders must have been massive. Few times standing so close together have such a sharp line of distinction as that which existed between pre- and post-WWI. The world before

WWI had been Jeffersonianly rural with all the conservative moral values of that way of life. The post-war Twenties were urban and in direct reaction against all reliques of Victorian morality.

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Preface to Singin’ Texas, Texas Folklore Society Extra Book #18, 1983

Edited by Kenneth L. Untiedt and Kira E. Mort University of North Texas Press PDF

Preface

[from Singin’ Texas, Texas Folklore Society Extra

Book #18, 1983]

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Singing is as natural to some people as scratching a tick bite—and just as compelling. They catch the rhythm of their walk and hum or think a song to go with it. They sing to the click-clack of windshield wipers. And a mood switched on by a beat or a breath of wind or a good looking woman yearns for expression in a howl or a moan or a shout. Some people have to sing. They don’t have to sing to somebody; they sing to and for themselves. They sing to express joy and to get a little beauty in the monotony of their lives or to jack themselves out of despair or to make the blues bearable. They love and they want to groan because of the ache of it, but they sing

“Born to Lose” instead. This is why, like the poor, music will always be with us, and folk music has been with us longer than any other.

Theoretically folk music could go back to man’s animal beginnings and to his animal kinfolk. The rooster crows the message that he is in control of his territory. The coyote howls out his challenge to other dog coyotes that might be considering moving in on his ground. And the range bull rumbles and bellows his warning to those who might be thinking about invading his harem and domain. The sounds that these male animals make when they are announcing their mastery of their territories are not the sounds they make under ordinary circumstances. These are their songs, and they have a recognizable structure and some melodic variation. The male animal sings “This Is My Country!” and tells the world that he is the king of his mountain; the female who is sexually ready sings back “I’m in the Mood for Love,” and like Nelson Eddy and

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